The Marketer’s Dilemma: Why cool kids make bad channel decisions


First, there’s a little beta group. Then someone big and important starts tweeting about it. Next, it seems like everyone who’s “tech savvy” is beating down the door to get in and eventually your Mom is tagging you in inspirational photos while the younger crowd talks about how much they hate it.

That’s the less-than-textbook user adoption curve for every successful social network since the inception of the OG: Facebook. The phenomena isn’t limited to social media, however — we’re all guilty of it: As soon as we see the “un-cool” signing up, we wonder if its best days haven’t passed it by.

Apply the model to the following:

Starbucks? Check.

iPhone? That’s why we need a new one every year.

Fashion? The whole thing is built on your Dad wearing one, therefore you must buy a brand new variant of last year’s model.

Instagram? We’re almost there. I’m calling it now.

Beyond a theoretical rambling, what does any of this matter? As a marketer whose job is to get other people to do things, it matters a lot.

We equate the death of cool with the death of opportunity, and I happen to think that’s garbage.

Marketers are typically cool people. We get in this industry because we like to make what’s new, to create something that will move people, and be a part of a creative process that launches something that the world has never seen.

But that’s not our job.

Our job is to get the people that the client wants to do the thing that he or she needs. End of story.

When we ditch a medium (not Medium, at least not yet) because of a shiny new thing down the street, we may well not only be doing ourselves and our clients a disservice, we may potentially wasting a truckload of their money talking to the wrong people.

I get asked all the time — why do you spend so much client money and time on Facebook and Twitter?

Because it works.

If Hi5 still worked (am I the only one who still remembers Hi5?), you better believe that I’d be up in their ads interface promoting content.

You see, the real user adoption curve (below) shows us that less than 3% of people are ever going to be those first moving Beta People who just have to get an invite to Ello, or camp out for the new mobile device. Once they do, if they like it, they’ll tell everyone who will listen (or click their linkbait) about how great this shiny new thing is. That’s when the Cool Kids jump on.

We as marketers salivate over the Cool Kids. We throw our products at them, begging for their approval so that Most of the World will look to them and follow along.

When we’re launching our own products, that makes sense. But when we’re looking at which social network to use, why do we feel like we need to have the latest, usually unproven, toy?

It’s because most of us are Cool Kids, and we value getting in early, away from the general public. That’s where we lose sight of our objective.

That thick middle section of the curve is where all of the meat is. It’s where nearly everyone who doesn’t work in our industry, or sit in coffee shops tapping on their new MacBooks, lives.

When we deliver our message to that group, we’re giving ourselves and our clients be best possible selection of people, the widest demographics and the only real chance that we have of communicating directly with the majority of consumers. That’s the difference between getting written up in blogs & winning awards vs. crushing sales targets and surpassing client’s expectations.

Should we always be staying on top of trends and trying new things? Absolutely.

Even more important than that, however, is that we consider whether our strategic decision to move our budget from Facebook to Snapchat, or Twitter to This.cm, or Blogging to Yik Yak is motivated by client objectives, or our inherent desire to be Cool Kids.

It’s not our fault, it’s who we are. But we’re smarter than that.

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